My love of Evil Corporate Coffee

by Steve

Woman serving coffee to policemenI never used to like coffee. As a kid I was far more inclined to have a glass of orange squash or, if I was lucky, a can of carbonated pop. As I got older I tried coffee more, but it quite often left me a jittery mess. And once I was old enough to drink alcohol, I struggled to understand why anyone would spend as much on a cup of coffee as they would on a pint of beer.

This was around the period when the Evil Corporate Coffee Empires started their quest to take over the high streets of Britain. I fully understand the concerns that the Evil Corporate Coffee Empires play a major part in the homogenisation of our towns and cities. They drive small firms out of business. They are the easy-to-hate symbols of multi-national nastiness. They are sinister purveyors of the finest gut-rotting beverages.

And yet, dear reader, I have to confess, I quite like them.

I seem to have taken quite a circuitous route to Evil Corporate Coffee. Sure, I might have had the odd caramel latte nonsense, but that tasted more like a milkshake than a coffee.

I might have had a coffee after a meal in a restaurant, but that was more to stave off the post-gluttony slumber. Proper coffee-ness was to come later.

My first real coffee experiences came with the small coffee companies that have emerged in the UK in recent years, selling decent coffee that is well-made and well-presented. Often run by Australians or New Zealanders, these places take a real pride in serving the best coffee, and take a zealous approach in spreading the word that coffee can be better than the Evil Corporate muck the people of Britain drink by the gallon-load.

I started drinking piccolos and flat whites. I realised that I probably hadn’t liked coffee much beforehand mainly because it had been awful. I realised that good coffee didn’t make me feel so jittery and horrible. Or if it did, it was worth it.

However, these great places had their own issues. They are often pretty expensive, at least in terms of a volume to cash ratio. Many are just street stands, or very small cafés. They are pretty few and far between. What if I fancied a cheap, big mug of coffee? What if I wanted somewhere to sit, to rest my weary bones and savour my coffee? Or what if there just wasn’t a decent coffee place nearby when I really fancied one?

This is when the Evil Corporate Coffee Empires started to woo me. Their sugary nonsense drinks were expensive, but the filter coffee was cheap, and not too bad. There was plenty of room to sit down and relax. And they were EVERYWHERE. Oh the joys of convenience!

Sure, I’d still support the local coffee places. They still do the best coffee, and generally offer the best service. But the Evil Corporate Coffee Empires didn’t seem quite so evil anymore. I guess that is the secret of their success. And the secret of their evilness too, probably.

I like to get out of the office at lunchtimes. I don’t want to be chained to my desk, and I don’t want to find myself working through an hour I’m not actually paid to work. I think it is healthy.

However, there is only so much wandering around I can do. Ideally, I want to sit down, relax a little, and read for a while. Most lunchtime venues are geared towards getting people in and out as soon as possible. Sitting outside isn’t a reliable option with the British weather. Pubs are perfect, but my liver won’t allow it. Plus, I can’t work every afternoon drunk.

But what’s that on the horizon? Ah, the welcoming glow of the Evil Corporate Coffeeshop. Here is my refuge, my retreat. Here is somewhere specifically designed for mooching about in.

I need not feel self-conscious about spending an hour with a coffee and a muffin, as that guy over there has been eking out a small black coffee for the last four hours, whilst making the most of the free Wi-Fi.

The décor is muted, the seating comfy and the ‘Community Noticeboard’ reassuring.

The music is good, if unchallenging. It appears the playlist has been curated by someone who loves Dad Rock as much as me. A place that plays Spoon and Wilco and Ryan Adams can’t be that evil, surely?

Here is my pseudo-intellectual hub, where patrons pretend to read good books, and pretend to write great ones. We all know they are really reading the latest airport novel, or updating their Facebook, but who cares when the panini is so tasty? And if I was surrounded by true intellectuals, I’d just feel inferior. And Evil Corporate Coffee is all about making you feel good.

I know this makes me a bad person. I should steadfastly stick to local, ethical companies. I should do something more productive with my lunch hour. I could work out. I could just stay at my desk once in a while and work more.

But…no. I need that coffee. And I need it served aspirational, cosy and corporate.

Image from the US National Archives via Flickr

Apologies for all the italics in this post. I have no idea what I’m playing at.

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